Space Panake Day 2023 (photo: Fred Andersson)

The question in the headline may seem obvious, but after spending a number of years in the eye of the storm, both through the frequent use of social media, countless books and articles read, and of course all those documentaries — serious and unserious — there seems to be a certain lack of humor, or self-distance within the subject. Now, I’m not going to paint everyone with the same brush, but this is something I have especially noticed among those interested in the subject in recent years. Yes, since those famous — and by now quite worn out — Pentagon videos. The connection to the military, authorities, and everything else that may seem more convincing on the surface has pushed aside the part of the unexplainable and mysterious that is downright bizarre, crazy, insane — and deeply humorous. The latter is not always the case for those who experienced it, but we who read and research about it afterwards can always take a step back and study the case with different eyes.

Sure, the subject was mysterious and strange when I first read Eugen Semitjov’s “De Otroliga Tefaten” as a boy, but between Semitjov’s rather skeptical attitude was a dry, academic humor that still, in some way, showed a hope that there was some truth in it all, or at least that there was something else behind it, something beyond hoaxes and misinterpretations. Although Semitjov doesn’t directly address those classic high strangeness cases with extra weirdness factors, I remember very well how Lonnie Zamora’s, the police officer who witnessed an egg-shaped craft landing outside Socorro on April 24, 1964, story made me laugh. Not at him or the experience itself, but at the bizarre fact that two short humanoid creatures in a large egg landed, walked around a bit, and then took off when they saw the shocked policeman a little further away. It reminds me of several encounters with Swedish gnomes, where the little man (for it seems mostly to be men) is just as surprised as the witness himself and ends up in a spaghetti western standoff for a few seconds before the little bastard runs into the forest and lingonberries again and the event is over as suddenly as it appeared.

It reminds about Helge Eriksson’s 1931 encounter with a dozen grumpy gnomes, or perhaps the man in Växjö who, in 2011, met a robot-like creature early one morning on his way to work. Sure, it’s scary — but also absurd and completely unlikely in comparison to our shared reality and expectations of it. Outside Sweden’s borders, there is, of course, much more, and perhaps plumber Joe Simonton stands out a bit extra. One morning, on April 18th, 1961, a classic silver flying saucer landed on his farm in Eagle River. He described the creatures as “Italians” and they made pancakes for him. Not particularly good ones either, something that Joe felt sympathy for. What if this was their usual food, cardboard-tasting pancakes that didn’t even have salt in them? Also not to be forgotten is Claude Edwards, who in 1967 in Tuscumbia, Missouri, encountered a group of green penguin-like creatures swaying around in a cow pasture next to their cigar-shaped craft — or perhaps all the times when various humanoids just stood and waved happily at the witnesses from their flying saucers, hovering boats, and other things you don’t usually see up in the sky?

If we go even further, where it may be more about creatures from folklore or… something completely different, there is even more. The gnomes in Wollaton Park, with their mini-cars and big beards, or Mrs. Jean Hingley’s attempts to feed three elf-like aliens with meat pies and cigarettes. When it comes to Sam the Sandown Clown, the experience may be more frightening in its absurdity than humorous — but still, one sits there in amazement and thinks, “can this really be true?”

Historian, researcher, and investigator John E.L. Tenney usually says that the phenomenon, and by that, he means everything under the umbrella that includes UFOs, ghosts, cryptids, and so on, wants us to play. The phenomenon invites us to a dance, where the idea is for witnesses to explore the world, themselves, and the universe — whether it just means taking an extra-long walk to that forest they’ve never visited before or waking up the imagination by experiencing something they haven’t experienced before. Looking beyond lights in the sky and grainy videos featuring black blobs, there is much more of value.

Sometimes — or quite often — it feels like the phenomenon wants to play, play hide-and-seek or just provoke a little, in an almost childlike way. During the years I worked on the TV series Spökjakt, we often noticed how the phenomenon likes to show itself — but only almost. There is always some angle that hides the final proof, something that stands in the way or a teasing thump in a dark room right next to it. The solution to the mystery is always within reach, but at the last minute, it backs away, and one is left with one’s pants down and perhaps, if lucky, a blurry photo or pixelated video.

Some time ago, in my text The Trickster on a String, I took a closer look at a description of UFOs that has almost disappeared, namely the movement often called the “falling-leaf.” Going back in time, you can find this description in almost every UFO book, but now it is almost gone. It is as if the phenomenon has adapted, once again, to how modern technology behaves. A thought struck me, and now you really have to think outside the famous box, and that is that the movement itself is part of the phenomenon’s humor or trickster mischief. Think of all those old amateur films featuring alleged flying saucers, many of which look like miniatures suspended on an invisible thread. They sway back and forth, like a falling leaf on its way down to the ground. What if the phenomenon imitated the general perception of how a flying saucer should behave, and adapted itself to these charming hoax films? Also, imagine, and forgive me for really going out on a limb now, that a witness is out and spots an unknown flying object and luckily happens to have their little film camera with them. The craft looks fantastic, and they hurry to film it, to capture the ultimate evidence of possible extraterrestrial life. When the film is developed, something that looks like a simple miniature UFO apparently dangling on a string, appears instead of that elusive smoking gun.

The phenomenon has thus shown itself in all its glory, but at the same time feels completely unlikely and unrealistic. The same thought could be applied to blurry videos and photographs in modern times. But we all know how difficult it is to capture something on camera, especially when something extremely unusual happens without warning. You should take my thoughts with a grain of salt, of course, but I can’t help but speculate no matter how wacky it sounds!

The question remains, is there room for humor in ufology? Absolutely, I believe most of us think so. For the subject itself can sometimes be absurd, and with a greater or lesser amount of humor involved, it is also easier to process the frustration that we all sometimes feel when another case turns out to be a castle made of sand, that the evidence is not sufficient and that contradictions abound. Because in the end, perhaps it is as John E.L. Tenney often says that the purpose is for us to play, explore, and have fun while trying to solve the mysteries of the universe?

On April 18th, the date when Joe Simonton ate space pancakes, I stood in the kitchen and made my own more down-to-earth versions. Since I am not a particularly good cook, I managed to burn one of the pancakes to the extent that it looked strangely similar to what Joe showed in front of curious journalists and photographers weeks after his encounter.

I saved that pancake for last and ate every bit of its crispy, burnt dough. And of course, I thought of Joe Simonton but was pleased that the one I ate — believe it or not — probably tasted much better.

Fred Andersson is a Swedish story producer, researcher and writer with over twenty years of experience in commercial television and the author of three books. He lives in Märsta, outside Stockholm, with his photographer husband Grzegorz and two overly active cats. Join him on Twitter and Instagram.

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Fred Andersson is a Swedish story producer, researcher and writer with over twenty years of experience in commercial television and the author of three books. He lives in Märsta, outside Stockholm, with his photographer husband Grzegorz and two overly active cats.